Home > Never Smile at Strangers (Strangers Series #1)(11)

Never Smile at Strangers (Strangers Series #1)(11)
Jennifer Jaynes

Without bothering to answer, Erica escaped to her room.


NINETEEN TEA CANDLES lit Erica’s room. She’d dumped the twentieth candle into her bedside garbage can, part of a ceremonial act she’d seen her mother perform several times. Nineteen flames now twisted on their wicks, swaying against the air conditioner that had just kicked on in the small room.

She leaned against her headboard listening to one of her mother’s Janis Joplin tapes. A bottle of white wine she’d bought from the young clerk at the general store rested between her legs. She took a sip, watching the flames’ shadows dance across the walls and the splintering bookshelves in her room.

Her mother had believed the candles gave her creative energy. Erica sipped as she waited to feel some of her own. But she was distracted. Images of the new hussy’s young face and long red nails had her preoccupied. She shook the images from her mind and took a longer sip, then another.

Sometimes during the candle ceremonies she swore she could feel the energy. Other times, she felt nothing, and only ended up falling asleep with the candles lit.

There was a knock on her door.

“What?” she seethed.

Her father opened the door. “Honey...” he started, coming in and sitting on her bed.

She moved to the chair by her window.

“Honey, we need to talk.”

“About?” she asked, trying to sound as indignant as possible. Her mother had been indignant with him, especially after his late nights at the car lot.

“It’s about your manners. Your attitude.”

She raised an eyebrow and studied the floor. She hated people’s eyes, they made her anxious. She didn’t like what she saw in them. Judgment, indifference, hate, ignorance. She couldn’t even bear to look into her own father’s eyes most times. He was as ignorant as all of them.

Her words were an angry hiss. “Excuse me?”

He glanced at her nightstand and saw the wine bottle, but when he spoke next, he said nothing about the alcohol. Instead of being relieved, it infuriated her more.

“You were very rude to Pamela tonight. I don’t—”

“She’s still here, isn’t she?” Erica interrupted. It was already ten o’clock. There was no reason for that strange woman to still be in the house.

“Well, yeah. Pamela’s still here. And she’ll be here a while. She’s. . . staying over.” He pointed to the candles on the windowsill. “You need to be careful with those. Make sure to blow them out before you go to—”

“Sleeping over? Where? Where will she sleep?”

“Erica, how many times do we need to—”

Her head was spinning from the alcohol. “In your bed?”

“I’m a grown man, honey. If Pamela—”

“You’re still married!” Erica shouted. Tears swelled behind her eyes and she turned so that he couldn’t see her face. She was disappointed that she’d raised her voice. He’d mistake it for her caring, which she didn’t.

The muscles in her stomach knotted when she thought of her father sleeping with another woman. She wasn’t sure why. She knew her mother would never return to him or Grand Trespass. So it shouldn’t even matter.

Often she’d fantasize about sneaking into her father’s bedroom in the middle of the night and ending both him and the whore he was laid up with. That would show him. It would be so easy. But she had too much to lose. Namely, her mother.

The voice behind her softened. “Your mother hasn’t contacted us in ten years. I looked very, very hard for her. We all did. We couldn’t find her, honey. I’m not sure what happened. . . or why she hasn’t tried to get in touch with you, kiddo. I know she loves you.”

Erica remained silent, not wanting to believe him. She wanted to believe that her mother had contacted her father; that she had tried to get in touch with her, but her father had in some way come between them. Her mother was perfect, something her father definitely wasn’t.

“Erica, I don’t understand why you have to make things so difficult. I try. I really do.”

He tried? She hadn’t seen him try. Did he think that the last several years of courting loose women and working late most evenings at the dealership was trying? How about giving her a rickety decade-old Ford F-150 that broke down twice a month, or caring nothing about her life? Was that trying?

Her father stood. “I’m sorry you feel this way. I really am. But I have a life, too. And I’m going to live it, honey.”

He walked to her bedroom door, then turned. “You’ll like Pamela. She’s a great lady. She’s different than the others. You’ll see.”

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